Kala Azar Research in India
Dr. Ravi Durvasula has extensive activities in India investigating the leishmaniases, a group of sandfly-mediated parasitic diseases and a leading cause of mortality in the world. In Bihar, India, the world’s most affected region for kala azar, rates of vector resistance to DDT range from 69.7% to 100%. The limitations of current control efforts warrant development of alternative methods to block transmission of L. donovani, such as paratransgenic manipulation. A paratransgenic approach involving sandfly commensal bacteria that are transformed to export molecules that neutralizeL. donovani might offer a tool to control kala azar. The following are highlights of these activities:
- The ongoing collaboration between UNM and Rajendra Memorial Research Institute (RMRI) in Patna, India aims to develop a foundation for paratransgenic control of kala azar by: (1) identifying the gut-associated bacteria of P. argentipes in four of the most endemic districts of Bihar; (2) developing lines of B. megaterium and B. linens engineered to export recombinant antibodies; and (3) developing laboratory lines of paratransgenic P. argentipes that carry recombinant B. megaterium and B. linens. A 2 year NIH R21 proposal is under review and involves collaboration between UNM, WRAIR, and RMRI (a Government of India-sponsored research center in Bihar).
- Currently, three trainees in the Durvasula lab at UNM and two PhD students in the Das laboratory at RMRI are engaged in studies related to paratransgenic manipulation of sandflies. To date, funding for this program has comes from seed monies provided by the SOM (PI, Durvasula), Research Allocation Committee funding at UNM (PI, Durvasula), and dedicated research funds at RMRI (PI, Das). Trainees in the Program will have access the Durvasula laboratory, as well as facilities at RMRI (Patna, India) where extensive field studies related to vector ecology, vector genetics, and social-economic determinants of kala azar transmission are being carried out.
- Two trainees in the Durvasula lab have recently received 5 national awards to conduct their studies in Patna. Dr. Amber Read, a fellow in the Division of Infectious Diseases, has been awarded a Burroughs Wellcome Fund two year fellowship and the Pfizer Centennial award. Heidi Hillesland, a medical student at UNM, has been awarded a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellowship, the Benjamin Keane Award from the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and the Infectious Diseases Society of America Medical Student Award for her research in India.
- Clinical trainees will also be able to participate in three ongoing WHO-sponsored trials aimed at treatment of kala azar. Finally, a fully contained Pathology Dept. at RMRI offers trainees one of the few opportunities in the world to witness splenic aspirates from kala azar patients.